The North American LCS spring split hasn't been easy for Team Liquid. A perennial top-four finisher in the league, the 3-9 club has struggled to stay out of last place this season and currently sits in a tie for the 10th and final position with Team Envy.
Last week, after two weeks of trying different players at the starting mid and AD carry positions, the club decided to move former world champion marksmen Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin from his natural role of AD carry to the mid lane for the first time in his career. For the empty starting AD carry position, the team repositioned another player, this time with Jung "Youngbin" Young-bin moving from his comfort position of mid to the bottom lane.
The drastic changes made for mixed results. Piglet starred in the team's win over Immortals in its first game back in the NA LCS, but Youngbin struggled to keep up with rookie Cody "CodySun" Sun in the bottom lane. Two days later, Piglet wasn't nearly as effective against Echo Fox, and Youngbin continued to be a nonfactor, with the Foxes taking the series 2-1. With only three weeks and six matches remaining in the season, the team sits two games behind Immortals (5-7) for the sixth and final playoff spot.
Going into the seventh week of regular-season play, Team Liquid has doubled down on its efforts to make the postseason, first signing former CLG and TSM AD carry Doublelift to a deal for the remainder of the spring split. Less than 24 hours later, Liquid picked up former All-NA LCS support Adrian "Adrian" Ma from Phoenix1. Although Adrian won't start in Week 7 and possibly won't play for Team Liquid until the summer, Doublelift will make his season debut in the LCS and play his first games with Liquid Friday against league leaders Cloud9 in a must-win for Liquid.
ESPN.com spoke to Team Liquid's co-CEO and owner Steve "LiQuiD112" Arhancet to discuss the team's major moves and plans for the rest of the season.
ESPN.com: First off, obviously, going into the season, a lot of people had high hopes for Team Liquid. You signed Reignover, one of the best junglers in the west, to reportedly one of the bigger contracts in NA LCS history. Piglet was coming back, and there was also a lot of talk about how much Lourlo had improved. Why do you think the team had such a difficult first half of the season, and what changes have you seen in the past two weeks since putting all your attention onto the League club?
"Doublelift was very clear he was only willing to sign with us for the remainder of the split. Anything more was a deal-breaker for him." Team Liquid co-CEO and owner Steve "LiQuiD112" Arhancet
Arhancet: I think the first six weeks of our season have been disappointing for a few reasons. First, the meta. In the summer previously and at worlds, there was a bot-centric and heavy-control centric jungle meta. Attack Damage Carries were a true carry position in the game, as they have almost always been. ADC's became cc' bots, and accordingly, one of our most talented players -- Piglet -- simply could not impact the game as much. Second, mid lane became highly competitive in NA with multiple new imports and top talent, and goldenglue's performance in scrims didn't translate in the timeframe we needed onstage. We remain hopeful that our recent, bold roster changes, in combination with my expanded personal involvement, position Liquid to finish off the split strong.
ESPN.com: Speaking of aXiomatic, you have made two stunning deals in the past 24 hours. You signed superstar marksmen and veteran Doublelift to a contract for the rest of the spring split, and then you picked up support Adrian, a player who was an All-NA LCS player last year on Immortals. Were the involvement and backing of Guber and Leonsis a big factor in making these moves, and did they give you the full support to make a late-season playoff push?
Arhancet: In short, absolutely. Prior to our partnership with aXiomatic, we lacked the financial resources and support to think this way. These deals with Adrian and Doublelift are possible only because of our partnership. While access to financial partners was and will be important, it's also the ownership group's experience and expertise on thinking big and bold to change direction that has proved enormously valuable. The big-picture thinking from folks like Peter, Ted and Bruce not only guides our direction but provides Victor and me with the support to grow Team Liquid.
ESPN.com: The deal everyone is talking about is Doublelift. What prompted the move, and while Doublelift seems to be set on trying out for TSM in the summer, will you and your ownership group attempt to re-sign him for the summer split if he fits well on the team in the final three weeks (and possibly playoffs or relegations)?
Arhancet: Well, what prompted the move was a string of losses. We are facing possible relegation from the league that I've dedicated my life to for the last four years. I reached out to as many ADC's I could think of, including folks like Imqtpie and dozens of challenger ladder players. We even partnered with Mobalytics to analyze statistics of challenger ADC accounts in NA and Canada. Any available non-import ADC was an option, and you've got the very best one sitting on the bench of TSM. We asked TSM if they would be willing to consider doing a deal. Once we worked out terms, Doublelift was very clear he was only willing to sign with us for the remainder of the split. Anything more was a deal-breaker for him.
ESPN.com: Besides the impact of the Doublelift signing for TL's chances to make the playoffs, the other big topic the community brought up was the relationship between you and Reginald. Some have brought up comparisons to the Team Dragon Knights and Renegades deal that got both teams barred from the league. Would you mind clarifying why it isn't like that deal, to clear up any misconceptions about the Doublelift contract?
Arhancet: We were already on a big hunt for an ADC, and I reached out to as many available players as I could think of. Look, TSM didn't do me any favors. I had to increase our offer multiple times to even get their attention to consider. Riot pre-approved the initial paperwork and then provided final approval on the Doublelift deal before we announced. We also had a pending Riot approval prior to our Adrian and P1 transfer announcement today. Everything goes through them. Andy and I have been friends since season one (and he carries me pretty hard in league), and that's why there's always going to be conspiracy theorists. Riot decides if they want to approve or deny trades.
ESPN.com: Youngbin played one week for you guys and left school to do so. With the move of Doublelift into the roster for the rest of the split, that leaves him in a precarious position. Can you talk about what Youngbin's position is on the team moving forward and how Team Liquid is helping him overall?
Arhancet: When we completed our ADC tryouts with those that were available, Youngbin was the obvious choice. Once we (players and coaching staff) made that decision, we made him an offer to come and play with us. We made it clear at that time: He might not be on the roster in the coming weeks if a better solution became available. We even, as a precaution to this, offered to Young that we would pay for his school as an additional consideration to make him comfortable with the decision. He agreed to those terms. After the first weekend's performance, I think we all knew Youngbin needed more time to develop. In the business we're in, where winning is so important, to the degree you can be relegated every six months, everyone understands we have to put the very best in each and every week. He will remain on site and learn from Doublelift before having tryouts for the summer split.
ESPN.com: Finally, all the moves Team Liquid is making are "win now" decisions. The team obviously believes it still can make the playoffs and make a deep run in the playoffs. If the team doesn't make the playoffs, will there be even more drastic changes heading into the summer split?
Arhancet: Not necessarily. Our aim is to build the teamplay and the individual performances of the players we have. At the end of the spring split, we'll take a look at how well we've done in that regard, just as we would at the conclusion of any split. With that information, we can decide what changes are necessary, if any.